Declaring that "race is inextricably a part of the American policing system," Minneapolis police chief Medaria Arradondo on Wednesday announced the first in a series of smart, major changes in the way his department operates.
"We will never evolve in this profession if we don't address it head-on. Communities of color have paid the price for this, especially with their lives," Arradondo said during a news conference that drew national attention.
Arradondo wisely targeted provisions in the city's contract with its police union and expressed well-placed frustration with an arbitration system that makes it so difficult to weed out problem cops. "… There is nothing more debilitating to an employment matter from a chief's perspective, that when you have grounds to terminate an officer for misconduct and you're dealing with a third-party mechanism that allows for that employee to not only be back at the department, but to be patrolling in your communities," he said.
Arradondo's call for much-needed change comes following the Memorial Day death of George Floyd while in police custody. Officially ruled a homicide, the killing has resulted in widespread peaceful protests following rioting in Minneapolis and St. Paul and other U.S. cities. Officer Derek Chauvin, who was captured on video with his knee on Floyd's neck, has since been charged with manslaughter and murder, and three other officers are charged with aiding and abetting.
Arradondo said he is determined to get back to community policing and rebuild citizen trust to be on the "right side of history." Rightly recognizing that some contractual arbitration provisions are barriers, the chief said he is withdrawing from current contract negotiations with the Minneapolis Police Federation, the union that represents about 800 officers.
Instead of continuing talks, he will bring in advisers to help restructure the contracts for greater transparency and major changes — such as including an early warning system to flag officer misconduct using real-time data and research. The city's most recent three-year contract with officers expired on Dec. 31, 2019, but until there is a new pact terms remain in place.
Salary and benefits are not at issue. Rather, Arradondo said, major change is needed in supervisory roles, use of force and the disciplinary processes, including grievances and arbitration. He added that he will continuously roll out more plans for reform and hold additional news conferences to discuss them.
Mayor Jacob Frey told reporters Wednesday that he supports the chief's new approach. He said outside advisers will review the existing contract and suggest amendments. And, "if there are road blockages that are extra contractual, like state law," they can help identify those as well, Frey said. The MPD is being investigated by the state Human Rights Department. As part of that probe, the state has given the city until July to provide a list of laws or other factors that are impeding its ability to discipline officers.
Meanwhile, one of the major obstacles to needed reform and contract changes has said little publicly in recent days after sending a letter to union members. Union president Lt. Bob Kroll told officers that they were being made "scapegoats" for rioting and that he was working with the union's attorney to help the four fired officers get their jobs back.
That response is in keeping with Kroll's record. He has consistently exercised poor leadership and been more harmful than helpful to police-community relations for years. Kroll's members should finally recognize his shortcomings and find a new leader.